A NEW play starring a cast of children will raise money for young refugees.

The show, In The Sea There Are Crocodiles, comes to Oxford Playhouse on September 12. However, audiences will get a sneak preview on Tuesday when it is staged in Wantage, at the town’s King Alfred’s School.

The play, produced by Wantage author-turned theatre producer Mary Loudon and adapted by Nicola Moran from the book by Fabio Geda, will raise funds for Young Roots a charity supporting child refugees arriving in the UK. It is directed by actor and drama academy owner Nicola Moran and features music especially by a former refugee, Arson Fahim. The performance will be simultaneously live-streamed online to be watched at home.

Joining the Oxford performance will be supporters and patrons author Philip Pullman, actor Juliet Stevenson, the former Bishop of Oxford The Rt Revd Lord Harries, and conductor and composer Cayenna Ponchione-Bailey.

MARY LOUDON took time out of rehearsals to tell us why she got involved...

"From the moment I discovered Young Roots, a charity providing immediate & long-term support to child refugees in the UK, I swore to its patron, the actor Juliet Stevenson, that I would find a way to raise money for them.

I’d read the true story In The Sea There Are Crocodiles some years earlier, and it haunted me ever after. I’d read how, at the age of 10, Enaiat Akbari’s village fell prey to the Taliban; how, fearing for his life, Enaiat’s mother led him across the border where she left him, alone, to fend for himself. I’d read about Enaiat’s five-year ordeal: traversing bitterly cold mountains, near-suffocating in the base of a truck, steering an inflatable raft in violent seas. I’d marvelled how that young boy crossed Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, and Greece – discovering brotherhood, witnessing death, and losing everything but hope - before arriving in Italy, aged 15.

Oxford Mail: The cast come from many international backgrounds

In August 2019, it hit me: the book would make a brilliant play, and the play could be the fundraiser. I got together with theatre director Nicola Moran, and over tea in a café in September 2019, we began work, there and then. Three months later, LoudonMoranProductions was formed, we had the UK theatre rights to the book, Nicola adapted it into a play, we cast brilliant young actors, booked professional theatres, and started fund-raising for the considerable production costs.

Then, the pandemic struck, but we were determined not to let people down: we didn’t cancel; we postponed the planned Autumn 2020 tour, and later rearranged it from scratch, with the sad loss of five venues in the process. Nonetheless, with huge efforts plus the support of kind patrons and sponsors - among them Philip Pullman, Harriet Walter, Sally Philips, Marcus Brigstocke & Julian Rhind-Tutt - the World Premiere and Tour 2021 is ready to go.

How I wish the play were fiction. How I wish it were not more relevant now than ever before. Our 21-year-old Afghan composer, Arson Fahim, is a former refugee himself and such a gifted musician that he conducted the Afghanistan National Symphony Orchestra. When still in his teens. A fortnight ago, he left Kabul for the US to take up a prestigious scholarship to a music conservatoire. It could be the greatest adventure of his life. Instead, he is sleepless, helpless and grieving, worrying for his family, friends and country. It should not be this way. It is terrible that it is.

Oxford Mail: The production launches in Wantage on Tuesday

In the Sea There Are Crocodiles is one child’s epic tale of hope and survival. As unaccompanied children around the world continue daily to seek asylum, and as the people of Afghanistan suffer in myriad ways that most of us can barely imagine, it is a tale that is re-lived by them, every single day.

I hope our play will be one of many wake-up calls. We cannot doze through this terror and tragedy. We have to help. We have to do anything we can."

  • In The Sea There Are Crocodiles. King Alfred’s School, Wantage, Tuesday, 31 August, 7.30pm. Tickets £10 from Eventbrite.
  • Oxford Playhouse, 12 September, 7.30pm. Tickets £10